Clock Bar: The Return of Marco


(Or, why I'm excited about the opening of the Michael Mina's Clock Bar in the Westin St. Francis)

Well, there are several reasons, but number one is the man pictured above, Marco Dionysus. One of the truly influential people in the modern era of San Francisco's cocktail scene, Marco may quite possibly be mentioned, in 100 years, alongside the iconic historical figures we talk about today: John Nichol (inventor of Pisco Punch), Bill Boothby (Palace Hotel bartender and author of 1907's The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them), etc. Marco helped ignite the city's cocktail renaissance with his cocktails both novel and classical in the early days of Absinthe and then at the Starlight Room. He has close to an encyclopedic knowledge of cocktails and spirits and--critical for a great bartender--is always good for entertaining conversation. 

Despite all his cocktail prowess, Marco has been laying low for the last few years, working behind the bar at Tres Agaves. Though he humbly describes the value of that era of his life as  "learning about tequila, making margaritas," working at Tres Agaves was a somewhat perplexing career move. For someone so bright to work in a bar with what is a particularly narrow focus was tantamount to retirement. It would be as if Kobe Bryant in his prime were to say "I'm leaving the Los Angeles Lakers to go play for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA development league."  Or for Thomas Keller to say, "I'm stepping down from leading the kitchen of the French Laundry in order to peddle hot dogs on Mission Street."  Perhaps Marco needed a break from the limelight or just wanted to keep his head down and make money for a while, who knows? But now he's back. 
Not only is Marco back, but after talking to him at length the other day, I can say that I've never heard him sound as sanguine and jazzed about anything. And he has good reason to be. The bar, for one thing, is beautiful. I got a sneak peek last night (didn't try the food or read the drinks menu) and can say that any bartender would be proud to work in the plush, wood-accented space.

The Michael Mina group has spent a ton of money in designing and building what, from the day it opens (July 15), is perhaps San Francisco's most beautiful bar. While its design suggests cocktail seriousness, it's nevertheless a relaxing and comfortable environment. Marco was also thrilled to have at his disposal the amazing resource of Michael Mina's kitchen, which can supply him with all the culinary ingredients he needs--from strawberry purée to pineapple gum arabic syrup to smoked tomatoes. And, finally, the Mina Group and its cocktail guru, Noah Ellis, have given Marco lots of input in setting up the bar with regard to spirits selection. Put all this together, and it's a lot for all of us to be excited about too. The return of a happy, energized Marco Dionysus to a gorgeous bar with almost limitless potential means that there will be many tasty adult beverages in our future. 

Chartreuse swizzle and Napa sour at the Clock Bar.

I'm also pleased that there will be synergy with the bar program run by Boris Saciuk up the stairs in Restaurant Michael Mina. In what will be all of the hype about the Clock Bar, Boris should not be forgotten. Besides creating some of the most delicious drinks around (go and try his new Monk's Julep), Boris probably has the most wine knowledge of any bartender in the city. I love sitting at his bar, as I did last night, and watching him work through a busy evening service. From the wine and food to the cocktails and customer service, it's a demanding job, and Boris gets it all done at a wondrously snappy pace while still being able to carry on a conversation. 

In fact, there are about to be two exceptional bars within paces of each other across the St. Francis' lobby. Tourists will hardly need to leave the hotel.

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